Recent Comments

close up of Robert Durst
George S. Larke-Walsh

I was very interested in your final point too, Leslie. Fictionalizing crime does seem to remove the stigma of true crime and allows viewers to root for the bad guys. Staci, I agree that there is a ‘guilty pleasure’ aspect of watching/enjoying true crime narratives. It seems to be connected to the moral dilemmas of making someone’s private life public - even when they are guilty. We are violating that right to privacy and the viewer becomes an onlooker. In reality we probably wouldn’t want to be seen hanging around a crime scene for a peek at the evidence, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t fascinated about what may be going on there. The general fascination with the macabre is a strong influence on the enjoyment of true crime in my opinion. True crime media allows us to be onlookers without being openly labeled as such!

Leslie Rowen

That’s a great addition, Staci. As far as victim stories go, Lifetime and Hallmark seem to run the show. Unfortunately, these companies are not known for their quality…I wonder if victims do not receive the same treatment as criminals in these programs out of respect for their privacy? I know that often families of victims view these projects as an exploitation of an awful situation. Perhaps the reason why there are so many examples of shows focused on criminals is because it seems more acceptable to intrude on their lives after committing a heinous crime. I’m really not sure, but it’s something to think about.

Staci Stutsman

Great post, Amanda! I, too, am interested in discourses of quality around these perpetrators (who are usually men). It’s notabe to see where the versions of the parallel texts are cropping up. For instance, Kathie Durst’s story is in the work at Lifetime ( http://deadline.com/2016/08/robert-durst-movie-in-works-lifetime-bettina... ). The stories of victims (who are often women) often crop up on channels that do not lend these stories the presitige associated with quality tv.

close up of Robert Durst
Staci Stutsman

Thanks for your reply! I’m especially interested in your last remarks—those around the stigma related to enjoying crime entertainment. It’s exactly that sort of enjoyment that I want to unpack. When I teach true crime in my courses, we always talk about how “grimy” it feels to enjoy these crime narratives so much. Despite that griminess (and the stigma), people love to watch true crime. Whether or not they “like” or feel “sympathetic” toward the true crime bad guys, the process of watching is enjoyable. It’s that pleasure that I want to explore by putting true crime in conversation with antihero dramas. Regardless of whether or not the perpetrator/villain’s guilt is definitive, people still love their stories. I don’t think that enjoyment is contingent on innocence. In some ways, I feel like antihero dramas (and their related discourse of ‘quality’) are creating a situation in which it is okay to “root for the bad guys.” This condonation seems to extend to true crime stories when they, too, are couched within discourses of quality.

close up of Robert Durst
Leslie Rowen

I think the point you make about true crime documentary talking heads is very interesting, Staci. In contrast with straight documentaries, the true crime doc enters itself as evidence—Durst’s bizarre behavior in The Jinx becomes his testimony, and it is up to the jury (us viewers) to determine his guilt or innocence. Though viewers are of course allowed their own opinions, I feel the case put forth by Andrew Jarecki in The Jinx is pretty damning. In the case of documentaries like The Staircase or the Paradise Lost series, there is less certainty, leading to much more debate about the courtroom verdicts of the cases in question.

I think it is interesting that you bring up Tony Soprano and Walter White as examples, because though they too are the focus of their respective shows, the perspective is different. Durst’s own narrative of his life is entered in contrast to the alternative telling made by Jarecki. Tony and Walter, on the other hand, have control of the story, and for this reason I think the audience feels more sympathy for these characters, even rooting for their success in their criminal endeavors. As a comparison, it made me evaluate my personal feelings about all three men, and exactly why I find Walter and Tony if not likable, interesting, whereas my feelings for Durst are entirely negative. I think the contrast between major figures of true crime with major figures of crime fiction is worth further study, and I’d wager that fictionalizing crime removes a lot of the stigma related to enjoying crime entertainment, making it more acceptable to “root for the bad guys.”

Patriotic Pepe
Richard Jermain

Thanks for your excellent entry. I’m curious how you see the relation of political memes to more traditional agit-prop (they at least resemble the aesthetic approach); or if you see them as a different approach altogether. I think it’s an interesting observation that the “jokes” always fall flat. What is the potential for subversion? For instance, many on the alt-right/far-right seem very confident that memes have a real force (“meme magick”). Is this belief itself facetious?

Evelyn Deshane

Thank you! Ann Cvetkovich has a really good assessment of the ‘Brandon Teena Story’ which echos these sentiments in her book An Archive of Feeling. Really great read.

Evelyn Deshane

Thank you! Ann Cvetkovich has a really good assessment of the ‘Brandon Teena Story’ which echos these sentiments in her book An Archive of Feeling. Really great read.

George S. Larke-Walsh

I agree with your assessment of ‘The Brandon Teena Story’. While the documentary tries to shed light on the problems faced by Brandon, the interviews, aesthetic styles and narrative chronology all point to an assessment of Brandon as a ‘problem’ for the community. The fact that he lied is often brought up as a reason for his vulnerability. The imagery of Brandon as a gangster also suggests his demise as inevitable. This does very little to shed light on, or encourage sympathy for, the problems faced by transgender people in society.

GBBO
Gabriel Huddleston

Graig,

Thanks for you contribution. I will be interested to hear your thoughts on my piece as we seem to be intersecting a bit. One thing I noticed from your piece (that I briefly touch on in mine) is the crucial element the hosts play in keeping things “good-natured” by continually undercutting any attempts at the traditional “high-stakes” of other reality-based competition shows. I wonder how much of this is due to the hosts themselves or the overall intentions of the show creators. I’m sure it’s both, but I will look back to see how prevalent it is towards the beginning of the show versus later episodes.

Gabriel